How Long Should You Rest Between Sets? [Everything You Need To Know

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How long should you rest between sets? 1 minute? 3 minutes? 5?

After reading this post you will learn:

  • How long you should rest between sets for muscle growth, strength, and endurance,
  • If you should be fully recovered before doing another exercise, and
  • How long to rest between workouts

So if you’re ready to talk about optimal rest time between sets, let’s dive right in.


How Long To Rest Between Sets?

You should rest anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes between sets. It all depends on what your training goals are.

In general, the heavier the weight you are using, the longer your rest periods should be. Similarly, the more repetitions you do per set, the shorter your rest should be.

In other words,

  • the heavier the exercise,
  • the fewer reps you will be able to do, and
  • the longer your rest period needs to be.

Got it? Good.

The next thing we need to determine is what are you training for? There are four different types of training modalities you should be using.

  1. Are you training for hypertrophy (aka to build muscle?)

  2. Are you training for strength?

  3. Are you training for maximum power?

  4. Or are you training for muscular and cardiovascular endurance?

In other words, are the weights light, moderate, heavy or very heavy?

How Long Should You Rest To Build Muscle (AKA Hypertrophy)

If you are training for muscle growth, you should keep your rest periods to about 3 minutes.

The idea is that you should be lifting weights that are moderately heavy.

This means that you should only be able to perform 7-12 repetitions per set with whatever weight you are using. Not more than 12. (We have an entire article on how many sets and reps you should do here)

3 minutes is the sweet spot. If you wait too long or go too soon, then you can negate the effects of hypertrophy training.

Set your timer.

3 minutes goes by fast. If you are with friends chatting it up, or on your phone answering emails, you may miss the boat.

How Long Should You Rest For Strength?

If you are training to build strength (aka strength training), you should keep your rest periods between 3 and 4 minutes.

It should go without saying that if you are training for strength, you should be using heavy weight.

This means your weights should be challenging. If you can do more than 6 repetitions per set, then you are not training for strength. Conversely, you should at least be able to get 4 solid reps.

The heavier weights will fatigue your central nervous system much more than hypertrophy range weights.

Several studies have confirmed that 3 minutes is a good time frame to rest to build muscular size and strength.

In addition, it may take a minute or two just to get your mental fortitude right for the next set.

The longer rest periods should allow you to keep the volume relatively constant across sets.

How Long Should You Rest Between Sets For Maximal Strength?

If you are training for maximal strength (i.e 1 rep max training), you should you should keep your rest periods between 4 and 5 minutes.

This type of training requires the use of very heavy weights.

It is always fun to dabble in the maximal strength range from time to time.

This means you should be using weights where you can only perform 1-3 repetitions per set. (With good form)

Training in this range is tough mentally and physically.

The purpose of the longer rest period is to allow the accumulated fatigue from the sets to dissipate and allow you to perform more than one set.

Why should you train in this range?

Purely for fun.

It is the one true method of seeing the accumulated progress you have made with training. A one rep max shows you what your body is capable of.

Again, only an experienced lifter should utilize this type of training due to injury risk.

Training for maximal strength should only occur twice a year at most.

How Long Should You Rest Between Sets To Build Endurance?

If you are training for endurance or metabolic conditioning, your rest periods should be 30-90 seconds between sets.

This is also known as metabolic conditioning or met-con for short.

This is beneficial for athletes who enjoy long distance, or long duration athletic events such as running or CrossFit.

Endurance training will typically utilize rep ranges > 12 reps per sets.

Some training programs call for 20 rep sets.

Obviously, the weight lifted will be “light” compared to the other three training modalities, so the intensity of the exercise is much less.

This type of training is more cardio-esque than anything. Your cardiorespiratory capacity will likely be your limiting factor.

This is why the rest periods are kept short. It allows you to keep an element of aerobic capacity at all times.

Do not expect to get any significant muscular size or strength using this training modality.

Is it bad to rest too long between sets?

It’s not necessarily bad to rest long between sets, but you should never exceed 4-5 minutes of rest. Especially if you aren’t training for maximal strength.

Resting more than 5 minutes per set can “cool you off,” lowering your core body temperature and decreasing your blood circulation.

This will simply waste time, and might decrease your ability to maintain consistent efforts between sets.

What Should You Do When resting between sets?

The best thing you can do to rest between sets is… rest.  I recommend that you sit down, catch your breath, and get your mental state ready for the next set.

I personally like to set a timer to make sure that I am sticking to the recommended rest periods.  Avoid chatting with buddies and checking instagram as this will waste time and deter you from what you should be focusing on.

Should You Rest More If You Go To Failure On Every Set?

It depends on what your goal is. If you are training for strength, then yes, it is reasonable to rest longer between sets if you are going to failure.

If you are training for hypertrophy or endurance, you can still keep the rest periods short. 

With that said, I do not recommend that you train to failure on every set. This can be very fatiguing both mentally and physically.  I wouldn’t use failure training more than once a week.

How Much Rest Do I Need Between Workouts?

In general, you should aim to workout 3-4 times a week, and not go more than 2-3 days in a row without taking a rest day.

In addition, you should not train the same muscle group with heavy compound exercises on two consecutive training days.

Give each major muscle group ~48 hours to recover.

Keep in mind that these are guidelines, and your life may force you to deviate from these recommendations.

That is okay!

The key is that you try to stick to the plan as often as possible, and be flexible enough to make necessary changes when the situation arises.

How long Should I Rest Between Exercises?

It depends on how difficult the last set of the previous exercise was.

If you are lifting moderately heavy, and you you should wait 2-3 minutes between exercises.

If you are doing endurance type training or using lighter weights, you should only wait 30-90 seconds.

With that said, you should always find ways to make your workout more efficient so that you spend the least amount of time at the gym as possible.

You should rest only as long as you need to catch your breath from the last exercise.

Don’t use this time to catch up with your buddy or start scrolling through your Instagram feed.

Hydrate, put your weights away and start getting things ready for the next exercise.

Always aim to move on as quickly as possible. You may not be completely recovered, but forcing yourself to keep working will build aerobic capacity.

Other Related Questions

Is it okay to rest between reps?

You can rest between reps, as long as you aren’t prolonging your sets unnecessarily. This is common in exercises that start with a concentric component such as 

  • Deadlifts
  • Pull-ups
  • Rows

Resting between reps is a good way to increase the total amount of volume you do on a workout to workout basis. I would keep the rest to no more than 5 seconds between reps.

Is there a difference with how long to rest between sets for weight loss?

If your goal is to lose weight, then you should try and do as much work as possible, in as little time as possible.

In order to do this, you should keep your rest periods short.

How short?

30-90 seconds.

This will build muscular endurance, but also burn the most calories.

This type of training is beneficial if you are performing high intensity interval training (HIIT) style workout.

What If I Am Doing Supersets? How Long Should I Rest Between Supersets?

What if you are doing supersets? How long should you rest between those exercises?

A good rule of thumb is to take 30-60 seconds between the two superset exercises, and then 2-3 minutes before restarting the next superset.

You don’t want your rest period to be so short that you can’t accomplish the work, and you don’t want to make them be too long, otherwise, there is no point in super-setting.

If you don’t know what a superset is…

A superset is a form of training in which you perform two distinct exercises back to back with taking little to no rest in between the movements.

Why would you do supersets?

They save time.

Particularly if you are someone who does not have a lot of time to spend in the gym. This is one of our 9 Effective Workout Hacks To Spend Less Time in the Gym.

Obviously, supersets are best done on exercises that do not interfere with each other. I.e, don’t superset pushups with the dumbbell bench press.

Do Different Exercises Require Different Rest Periods?

Different exercises will require different rest periods.

The large compound exercises, for example, will always require more rest than an isolation exercise.

Just think about how much more fatigued you are after performing a set of deadlifts compared to a set of tricep pushdowns.

You will need 1-2 minute just to get your respiratory rate back to normal after deadlifts.

Meanwhile, you can go for an all-out run after performing a heavy set of tricep pushdowns.

I recommend that you take at least 3 minutes of rest whenever you perform any of the Big 4 Compound Exercises or their variations.

This means taking at least 3 minutes of rest between sets of squats, bench presses, deadlifts, and overhead presses.

Isolation exercises will never produce anywhere near as much fatigue as these exercises would, and will benefit from the shorter rest periods described above.

Should you do more than 3 sets?

It depends on how many repetitions you are doing. In general, you should try to do at least 20 repetitions of each exercise per workout.

So if you are doing sets of 8-12 repetition per set, 3 sets in enough. If you are only doing 4-6 reps per set, you should do at least 4 sets.

Final Words on Rest Periods

Alright, so now you have a guide on

  1. how often you should workout,

  2. how to structure your training days,

  3. what kind of weights you should use,

  4. how many sets and reps you should do, and on

  5. how much weight you should you lift

Use your rest periods wisely, and change them based on the number of reps you are performing and the specific training modality you are using.

Don’t make the mistake of wasting time in between sets of exercises. When you are at the gym, it’s time for work, not play.

Now we turn it over to you.

How long do you rest between sets?

Have you ever changed the rest periods to improve some fitness attribute?

Comment below and let us know!

PS. Don’t forget to share this article if you found it useful -> ->


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Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex Robles, MD, CPT / Brittany Robles, MD, MPH, CPT

Alex & Brittany Robles are physicians, NASM CPTs, health & fitness experts, and founders of The White Coat Trainer: a site dedicated to improving the health and fitness of busy professionals. Their advice has been featured on KevinMD, The Doctor Weighs In, My Fitness Pal, Reader's Digest, Livestrong, and The Active Times. Learn more about them here.

Learn More About Them Here

4 thoughts on “How Long Should You Rest Between Sets? [Everything You Need To Know”

  1. What are your thoughts on volume as it relates to rest periods? In other words is it better to do 3 sets of squats with 70% of your 1RM for RPE 7-8 with 5 minutes of rest or 6 sets of squats with 2 minutes of rest? In other words, if you only have 45 minutes to workout is it better to shorten the rest periods to increase volume or maintain longer rest period but lower volume.
    I have been experimenting recently with dropping my rest time across the board in an effort to get more total sets per week. I have only been trying this for 4 weeks so difficult to say what if any strength gains are being made but my aerobic capacity has greatly improved.

    1. The White Coat Trainer

      Hey Grant,That is a great question. In general, I would say the latter situation is more beneficial. Total volume will always be the biggest driving force in making progress over time. In addition, you get the added benefit of getting aerobic training as you mentioned.
      It will also depend on what you are training for. If you keep adding weight to the bar, there will come a time where the weights will be heavy enough to require more than 2 minutes of rest. This is particularly true for the compound upper body exercise where it takes longer for fatigue to dissipate. (I’m sure you have experienced being able to get x amount of reps on the first set of bench press or pullups, then getting fewer reps on the second set, and even fewer on the third).
      One way around this is to keep the rest periods short across the board and keep the daily volume low, but increase the frequency of the workouts so that the total weekly volume exceeds what you were doing before. You get to practice the lifts more often, and you won’t be driving yourself into the ground each training session.

  2. Coach thank you very much…

    Some guys say that if we should straight set then we should same weight… I mean:
    50 kg for 5 set and 10 rep… And if we complete 5 set and 10 rep with 50 kg, then we can increase weight… and go on same way… I mean, we should work weight max 10 rep weight actually not 50 kg, maybe 40…

    But some other guys same as you, say that, 50 kg work set first set 10 but 2.set maybe you cannot 10 then 9 or 8,… namely: max rep indeed…

    İf we choose your system, when we should increase reps…
    1:Until first set higher 10…will be 11 etc…
    2:Until all set equel first set… if first set 10,second 10 but third 8 then we work until third 10 too…

    Coach sorry my poor english but I think you understand what I mean…

    Basically you say that good form and failure… We should adding weight first set rep increase not wait until last weight increase and equel first set…

    We should adjust weight according to first set…?

    Please answer…

    Thank you for sharing amazing website and knowledge…

    1. thewhitecoattrainer

      Hi Okan,

      Thanks for your message. You can actually use either approach. I think its best for you to be able to do the same amount of repetitions on the second and third set as the first set before you increase the weight. This is especially true for beginners. However, as you get more experienced, sometimes it might be helpful to increase the weight, even if the second and third sets aren’t as strong as the first set.

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